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7 best practices for effective nonprofit storytelling

Say goodbye to dry statistics and learn how to do more with storytelling for nonprofits. Plus, we've got some of the best nonprofit storytelling examples from real organizations that are sure to inspire.

Kylie Davis
September 29, 2023
February 17, 2022
Nerd Mr Butter

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To transform our communities for the better, many nonprofit leaders ask themselves this question: How do we get people to connect with our mission?

The solution? Nonprofit storytelling.

We’ll teach you what nonprofit storytelling is, offer the best nonprofit storytelling examples, and show you how to leverage it to advance your mission. 

What is nonprofit storytelling, anyway?

Nonprofit storytelling uses personal narratives to create a connection between your supporters and your cause. These stories can be told in the first or third person, and they involve real people or situations. 

You can use stories anywhere in your nonprofit communications strategy, including

  • Social media posts 
  • Blog content 
  • Website testimonials 
  • Podcast episodes 
  • Annual report
  • Email marketing 
  • Fundraising events

It's good practice to use a number of different channels to connect these personal stories with as many donors as possible! 

Why is nonprofit storytelling important? 

Storytelling is used to encourage an emotional response, action, or other behavior and is an effective communication technique for several reasons: 

  • Stories are memorable 🧠 Dates, figures, and statistics can be hard to remember—they don’t invoke an emotional response unless we connect them to a story. 
  • Stories create human emotion 💛 Stories pull on our heartstrings because we imagine what our lives would be like if we were placed in a similar situation.
  • Stories inspire people to act 💪 Because a great story can cause powerful emotions, people are more likely to take immediate action (potentially by donating to your cause).
  • Stories can inform and educate people 🧑‍🏫 Great storytelling clues supporters into exactly who you are and why your mission is so important.

7 nonprofit storytelling best practices

If you're looking to use storytelling as part of your overall nonprofit marketing strategy, follow these seven best practices and see how real nonprofit organizations are putting them into action. 

1. Put your mission in the middle 💪

Effective storytelling for nonprofits reflects and amplifies your mission, aligning with what your supporters care about most—your cause. Research indicates that the majority (75%) of donors give to nonprofits because they are passionate about the mission.

Here are five types of content you can use to incorporate mission-driven messaging into your storytelling strategy:

  • Informational 🔍 Explain what, why, and how your organization operates. Educating supporters on the importance of your work should be a core message you emphasize consistently across your marketing efforts.
  • Educational 📚 Provide value to your audience by creating educational content that draws on what you offer in your programs. This not only benefits your target audience but also demonstrates the effectiveness of your work to donors.
  • Actionable 🚀 Encourage your audience to take action beyond making a donation, such as volunteering, sharing your fundraising campaign, or signing up for your email list. This reinforces engagement with your nonprofit.
  • Testimonial 💬 Use stakeholder quotes and stories to demonstrate the impact of your work. Testimonials help prospective supporters identify with your initiatives and show donors the efficacy of your impact on individual lives (more on this below!).
  • Resources and referrals ⭐ Offer mission-relevant resources and referrals to articles, services, and partner organizations. By showcasing resources outside of your organization, you can show your organization's connection to the nonprofit sector as a whole and an earnest desire to see your population of service supported—no matter how or where that happens.
Orion Center for Integrative Medicine's client care post on Instagram

💛 See it in action: In this Facebook post, the Orion Center for Integrative Medicine shared data-backed research on the financial distress impacting cancer patients. By explaining the core problem, potential donors understand why there is a need to donate to the organization.

2. Find your character(s) 👯

Nonprofit storytelling: Charity Water website

The best stories are told by and about real people. As a nonprofit organization, there is no shortage of people who are personally connected with your cause.

Reach out to those whose lives have been directly impacted by your organization. Ask if you can interview them for 20–30 minutes, discussing how their lives were before and after they found your organization.

💛 See it in action: charity: water uses nonprofit storytelling as a key component of their overall content strategy—they share testimonials, quotes, and interviews regularly on their blog. Some stories are multiple paragraphs long, while other posts contain round-ups with photographs and 1–2 sentences from individuals impacted by their organization.

3. Share the faces of your stories 📷

If you want to transform a good story into a great one, consider adding photographs, video, or other media. Visual storytelling allows your supporters to feel as though they personally know those connected to your cause. 

Nonprofit storytelling: Holocaust Museum Instagram post

💛 See it in action: The US Holocaust Museum fills over 90% of its Instagram posts with personal narratives. Each post contains a photo of a survivor or someone who lost their life during the Holocaust. The corresponding caption contains a documented history of the individual or family, ensuring no one forgets the real people who lost their lives in the largest genocide in human history.

4. Start with your founders 👋

More often than not, people start their own nonprofit because they have a personal connection with the cause. So, when looking to share stories across your communication channels, speak with your founders about sharing their own stories.

💛 See it in action: Pencils of Promise, a New York-based nonprofit that helps build schools around the world, shares a heartfelt story of how the organization got its start on its about page. The founder shares the story of backpacking in India when he asked a child what he wanted most in the world. The child replied with, "a pencil," which led the founder to travel to 50 countries worldwide, handing out pencils, pens, and other supplies, and eventually building 550 schools.

5. Don't be afraid to repurpose content ✍

Here's a tip that's relevant across all marketing tactics—not just nonprofit storytelling: Repurpose content across a wide variety of channels.

If, for example, you record a 30-minute interview with someone impacted by your organization, transcribe that interview into a blog post, or pull out the best quotes to use in a social media post

💛 See it in action: Amnesty International writes educational posts on Instagram, then uses a linkin.bio link to guide supporters to learn more through Amnesty Academy—online courses that offer in-depth lessons about issues around the world.

6. Show how a donation can make a real impact 💣

The nonprofit sector works everyday to combat some of the world's biggest injustices and largest problems. Unfortunately, many potential donors might look at these issues and think, 

"What difference will my donation really make?"

To draw a direct line between a donor's contribution and the change they made, make impact stories a key component of your marketing strategy. 

Your supporters will feel essential to your cause, no matter how much they contributed.

Watsi website

💛 See it in action: Watsi, a digitally focused health nonprofit, shares stories of those who need access to medical treatment. For example, this page shares the story of Canthy, a taxi driver from Cambodia who needed $229 for cataract surgery. 

7. Make visual storytelling part of your brand 🎨

Visual storytelling not only enhances the visual appeal for your current and potential donors, but research has also shown that visual aesthetics have a direct influence on consumer spending behavior, making it crucial in encouraging supporters to make their first donation.

Visual communication has also been scientifically shown to strengthen emotional ties with your audience, influence how people think, and even inspire them to take action.

Here are some ways you can start leveraging visual storytelling:

  • Custom branding 🎨 Use your organization’s core brand elements (logo, theme colors, etc.) consistently to develop a lasting connection with supporters. Apply these elements not only in your marketing efforts but also on website widgets, donation forms, fundraising pages, and event tickets.
  • Photos and graphics 🖼️ Enhance your donor engagement efforts by incorporating powerful imagery, including nonprofit photos or custom Canva graphics, in email blasts, text messages, and other campaign updates.
  • Video 📹 Take your storytelling to the next level by embedding videos on your fundraising pages and email campaigns, or send personal videos directly to supporters with ThankView.
  • Emojis and GIFs 🎉 Visual art can extend to nearly any content marketing deliverable—including blog posts, campaign updates, and even interactions with supporters. Consider adding emojis, GIFs, and even drawings to convey your organization's unique personality or generate excitement for your cause.

Launch your nonprofit storytelling with Givebutter 

Storytelling for nonprofits is an effective marketing technique that uses real stories to help create a personal connection with your cause.

Givebutter, the always-free, modern, donor-centric fundraising platform, can help bring your nonprofit storytelling strategy to life. With a built-in CRM platform, marketing automation tools, and top-rated fundraising features, your organization can incorporate storytelling in all of your efforts and and get you one step closer to your mission.

Discover powerful marketing tools designed for nonprofits

Ready to see how Givebutter can help you share better stories? Sign up for your free Givebutter account today to get started.

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